Monday, October 3, 2011

One Christian’s View of Taxes

Before saying that I don’t mind paying taxes I should point out that I, like everyone else I know, would be entirely happy to live in a world where no taxes were needed or assessed to anyone. But, having said that, I repeat, I don’t mind paying taxes.

I should say, further, that I don’t want them to be excessive, or capriciously assessed, or used in wasteful or corrupt ways. I don’t mind paying taxes that are legitimately needed to support the genuine functions of government. I don’t mind that I have paid a higher rate of taxes than some others who are less well off than I, and I think it entirely fair that those better off than I pay a higher rate of taxation than I do. In general the better off a citizen is the greater the share of government services he/she benefits from.

Taxes are perhaps as old as government itself. When mankind began to organize itself into polities for purposes of economy, protection, production, worship, etc., it began to tax itself to support the organizations needed for those functions to be effective. Sometimes the “tax” was levied in quantities of precious metals, sometimes in commodities, sometimes in conscripted labor. The ancient Hebrews needed ten percent of each citizen’s yearly profits to operate their religious/political functions. After they instituted a monarchy the tax for the temple continued and more taxes were added to support the monarch and his functionaries. It has been no different anywhere else since, except that the level of taxation and the efficiency of the governments it has bought have varied widely from place to place.

The United States of America was born, in part, as a tax revolt. One aspect of the American Revolution was a protest against “taxation without representation.” Undoubtedly, for some, it was simply a revolt against taxation of any kind or any amount. There is a frame of mind that seems to believe that: 1) society can exist without the assistance or constraints of government, or 2) that the level of government that is needed can exist without taxing anyone at all, or 3) that any taxes needed should come from anyone but oneself. All of those assumptions are the product of ignorance or wishful thinking. We are a large, diverse, and complex nation and to believe that it can function peacefully, fairly, and effectively with minimal government is as ridiculous as believing that the universe popped into being of its own accord and owes nothing to a superintending deity who sustains its every breath and movement. Christians scoff at such arrogant ignorance and rightly so.

So, I don’t mind paying taxes to support a large government – a multi-layered government – as long as I feel it is purposed to protect our interests, promote our wellbeing, and regulate our social, economic, and political intercourse. I don’t object to programs that redistribute wealth as long as they are fairly organized and administered. As a Christian I believe I have an obligation to my less fortunate fellow beings and I feel good that my tax dollars go, in part, to meet some of their needs. As a Christian I believe it is the responsibility of every citizen to contribute what they can to the common good. Likewise it is the right of every citizen to expect that they will be rewarded for their contributions should they be in need of government assistance at some point in their life.

Christians believe that mankind is made in the image of God and that every human being is therefore precious in His eyes, a son or daughter to be cherished and brought into knowing and loving relationship to their heavenly Father. They are taught, by their Scriptures, that human governments are instituted by God for the good of society and that they should submit themselves to their authority and pray for their leaders so they can live a peaceful and prosperous life on earth. Good government can promote a peaceful and productive society in which people of all faiths can practice their religion unharmed.

Christians have benefited from such a government in the United States, seeing their numbers (and the numbers of their various denominations) increase almost exponentially over the history of our nation. It is therefore baffling to me that a significant segment of the Christian community has been in the vanguard of anti-government, anti-taxation agitation. I think I know the hope that drives such anger and resistance; a hope that if they can shape the government to favor their particular sect they will be able to create a theocracy that will resemble the Biblical Millennium of Peace. That is a dream that has no basis in Biblical prophecy and no chance of human fulfillment. Such a kingdom can only be the work of Messiah himself when he returns . Our job as human beings, and Christians in particular, is to use the resources given us as mortal beings to shape the best, and fairest world we can while waiting for God, in his own time to bring in perfection.

So, I don’t mind paying taxes to a secular government for the purpose of making life as pleasant and prosperous for all citizens as it possible can. We can – and will – quibble over what is right and fair for government to be doing, but if we want it to work well, it needs the willing support of those who will benefit from its services. In my opinion it ought to have the generous and “cheerful” support, to use a Biblical phrase, of those who bear the name of the one who has given them the undeserved hope of everlasting life. To whom much has been given, much is expected.

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